An Interview with Paula Varjack
THE MUMBLE : Hello Paula, so can you tell us where you’re from & where you’re at, geographically speaking.
PAULA : I am writing this to you now from my living room in Hackney, East London, where I have lived on and off for the better part of 18 years. London feels like the place I am most from as I have spent most of my life here, but I can never fully claim it as I have a very strong american accent. I was born in Washington DC to a British father and a Ghanaian mother. when i was still a baby we moved back to Bromley in Kent, we then moved back to Washington and I stayed there until I was a teenager, and at 17 I moved back to London again. I then lived here until I was 30, when I moved to Berlin for four years. Since then I have stayed in London, if you don’t count the five months I lived in Madrid.
THE MUMBLE :Poetry is just one of the strings to your polymathic bow, what else drives your creativity
PAULA : I am an artist who works in a number of forms and I actually only rarely write poetry these days, although there is a poetic feel to a lot of my prose. The medium I work in most is theatre, but I also make video work and often make performance that involves video in some way. I have also begun to explore creating more work that is cabaret based, that I really enjoy. Having worked with words for so long, its so nice to play more with movement and dance and even physical comedy
THE MUMBLE :What got you into poetry in the first place
PAULA : My parents more than anything. They read me a lot of poetry when i was a kid, and i could tell that they enjoyed to read it and read it allowed. .I have very early memories of my dad reading me the Jabberwocky, and Rudyard Kipling, and I remember my mother proudly telling me about how her father had been a published poet, and was respected by and liked by a number of quite well known African-American writers, most notably Maya Angelou and James Baldwin, who both visited in Ghana where my grandfather lived and was from in the early days of pan Africanism, my grandfather was known to be sympathetic to the African-American cause at the time, and particularly to artists. A poet was a great thing to be as i understood from a very early age. I was encouraged to write poetry
THE MUMBLE : Who have been your greatest poetic influences, in both early & present days
PAULA : I have moved around a lot, but there are some books and writers that I manage to always keep with me. I am not sure if these writers have influenced me but they definitely made an impact. In terms of poetry I like to read I will always have the collected EE Cummings, Howl by Alan Ginsberg, Leaves of grass by Walt Whitman and Sonia Sanchez and Pablo Neruda’s love poems on my shelf. I also quite like Bukowski’s poetry. In terms of poets I enjoy watching perform there are literally too many to mention. But long before I became a performer myself I was really struck by Stacyann Chinn, Stacy Makishi, Salena Godden Cheryl B and Francesca Beard. Celena Glenn, Black cracker and Beau Sia.
THE MUMBLE : What inspires you to write
PAULA : Life, the weird wonderful heart swell and heart break of the every day of it, the adventure and late nights but occasionally also the revelations that come in the quiet pauses, in the mundane.
THE MUMBLE : Your debut prose & poetry publication ‘Letters I Never Sent to You’ has just been published by Burning Eye Books. How are you feeling about this?
PAULA : I feel really great about it. Burning Eye is such an enthusiastic press for spoken word artists, and right from the start of the conversation around the book I have felt really supported by them. Having worked in performance for so long, its also really exciting to produce something creatively that results in an object. Its funny how exciting that can be after working in the ephemeral for so long
THE MUMBLE :What are you bringing to the table at this year’s StAnza festival
PAULA : My energy, spirit and stories, and the book itself it course, which I am very proud of and excited to share. There may be a little multi-media in the mix and an extract or two from theatre work too.
THE MUMBLE : What does the rest of 2017 have in store for Paula Varjack
PAULA : It looks really really busy to be honest, but in so many exciting ways. Right after Stanza I go head first into a U.K. tour for my latest performance Show Me The Money, a show based on interviews with artists around the U.K about the value of art in these uncertain times. when that is completed I will then get stuck in to development for my next theatre show The Cult of Kenzo, exploring our relationship with brands, but in particular luxury brands, which will start its development at a residency at Battersea Arts Centre . Meanwhile I will be lead facilitator for the Barbican Junior Poets programme, while also freelancing as a drama and creative writing facilitator for eastside educational trust, and somehow when I am not doing all of that I will be hosting and producing events with Dan Simpson with our hosting and production partnership Varjack & Simpson and before I know it, it will be summer and i will be back in Scotland for fringe again. It certainly won’t be a laid back year, but i am looking forward to all of it.